Mark Millican

Mark Millican

Imagine you’re taking a friend to the seashore for the first time. As you near your destination, he or she gets excited and begins to ask you what it will be like. But how can you answer?

As you struggle for words, your car ascends the last bridge separating the mainland from the island, and clouds that were at once gray yet luminous are broken by the sun’s rays falling through, turning the water in the estuary almost a translucent blue. Your friend’s eyes widen as he observes the whirls and eddies of an incoming tide.

You say nothing.

Atop the span and with a view over the massive live oaks resplendent in Spanish moss, a wall the color of cobalt appears on the horizon that stretches on and on.

“Is that … ?” he hesitates and begins to smile. “Yes,” you reply.

Standing on the beach, your friend is speechless. It begins to sink in that the Atlantic Ocean, whose contiguous waters cover three-fourths of the planet, is even more vast than what he envisioned. In one direction, the sun that emerged red and orange earlier that day leaves its reflection on the surface of the briny water, appearing as millions of sparkling diamonds. Looking upcoast, seagulls wing and wheel in the air as if directed by one mind, sandpipers skitter along the sand and pods of porpoises surface on their lazy morning mission for breakfast.

The entire scene before you is at once primordial, yet appears to have no end.

To be honest, it’s not just first-timers who can be mesmerized and entranced by seaside rhythms. It gets to me every time we visit, and the end of the year and start of a new one serves well in allowing one to once more reflect on the past year and ponder the future; the timelessness of waves washing ashore and their ceaseless lapping serves as the meditative backdrop.

It gives one time to get away, and also to think on another level.

Checking in on social media took a backseat initially during our recent visit, so when I first noticed someone posting a picture of my friends Tommy Phillips and the late Tony Ingle together, it didn’t hit me what happened. Not as absent-minded from the present on the next day, I read of Tom’s passing in the Dalton Daily Citizen online edition. I knew he had struggled with cancer, and that the last few months had been critical. But I was shocked my old friend was gone.

Tommy and Richard Phillips — it’s how I knew them in high school — attended North Whitfield High before they moved into town. Tommy and I were classmates and teammates as freshmen, and Richard was a senior. Unlike some other upperclassmen, Richard never acted superior or mean and was always friendly. I looked up to him then, and still do.

After moving to Elliijay 37 years ago, I kinda lost track of the Phillips boys. Richard had interviewed me on a Dalton radio station about a 5K fundraiser some of us recreational runners were putting together around 20 years ago, and that was pretty much it. Then a while back they were setting up a tent for a radio feed from Dalton Green as our Marine Corps League was hosting a Family Fun Day/Toys for Tots drive. Even with my USMC ball cap on, they recognized me and called my name when I walked up — then bear hugs were in order.

A couple of years ago, I saw where Tommy was going to give his testimony at Pleasant Grove Methodist one evening, and we drove over from Ellijay. Richard and his wife Beth were also there and we dined on spaghetti and caught up with each other’s lives. Tommy held us all spellbound with the gift of his voice, and kept us laughing by switching into his radio personality to tell a joke. He also talked about Tony’s Dalton State College Roadrunners winning the national basketball championship, and what a thrill it was to interview him on-air afterward.

Later, I thought about some of the times we’d all been through and how things had turned out. Richard and Tommy used their words effectively through the air waves, my words were set to paper and Tony’s words built champions. Losing Tommy hurt, and I’m aware it’s not just me. Since we were on the coast and couldn’t attend his memorial service, I contacted Richard to offer my condolences. He wrote, “Tom courageously fought cancer for 14 months. He was a real trooper. He loved everyone.”

A devotional book I picked up at a secondhand store is titled “365 Devotionals on the Power of Prayer for Men” and also includes some “classic prayers” from the past. On the second day of the new year, Eusebius of Caesarea was featured:

“May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.

“May I never quarrel with those nearest me; and If I do, may I be reconciled quickly.

“May I never devise evil against any person. If any devise evil against me, may I escape uninjured and without the need of hurting them.

“May I love, seek and attain only that which is good.

“May I wish for all humanity’s happiness and envy none.

“May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to my friends and to all who are in want.

“May I respect myself.

“May I always tame that which rages in me.

“May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances.

“May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good people and follow in their footsteps.”

How could an ancient from the fourth century know he would one day be describing our friend Tom Phillips?

Richard continued, “He would tell me ‘When I get well, Mark Millican is going to do a story on me and the show.’” That show, “Sunday Morning with Chattanooga Tom,” was a gospel music-oriented Phillips brothers production and one Teresa and I listened to on the way to church. With his inimitable voice, Tommy kicked off the program by praying a blessing on each listener and petitioning the Almighty for a response to the words in the songs.

You are well now and totally healed, my brother. I can’t wait for my first tour of heaven with you as my guide. And I know you’ll enjoy seeing me speechless standing beside the timeless sea of glass with that broad smile of yours. Surely it will defy description.

Mark Millican is a former staff writer for the Dalton Daily Citizen.

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